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NEWS: Canada pushes GMOs in Canada-EU negotiations

The Harper government has been pushing on the genetically-modified organisms issue in the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations. It is believed that Canada is seeking to have European ‘regulatory barriers’ against GMOs dropped through the CETA talks so that modified crops and hormone-treated meat from Canada can be exported to Europe.

Last April, the Canadian Press reported that, “Canada…wants access to European agriculture, in particular ending barriers to genetically modified foods.” That’s at http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Business/Employment/2010-04-27/article-1302041/Big-stakes-in-Canada-Europe-trade-talks,-but-little-attention/1. In fact, as early as September 2008 Inside US Trade reported that, “Quebec Premier Jean Charest has been driving the process (for a Canada-EU agreement), looking for…greater export opportunities for pharmaceuticals and biotechnology which face regulatory barriers such as those against genetically modified organisms in Europe.”

In August, Reuters reported that, “The Canadian government has voiced concerns about a European Union proposal to allow member states to decide whether to ban genetically modified (GM) crops. …The letter from Canada to EU government embassies states, “Canada is concerned that the EU’s proposal does not appear to be consistent with a science-based approach. …Canada is watching developments in the EU closely, including discussions on the consistency of the proposal with the principles of the EU single market.” Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Luxembourg have banned the cultivation of GM seeds, while other countries including the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom appear more open to GMOs.

In terms of background, the Reuters article explained that, “The bloc’s executive – the European Commission – submitted the proposal in July in a bid to break a deadlock in EU GM approvals, with just two products authorized for cultivation since 1998. If approved by EU governments and lawmakers, the plans would allow member states to ban the growing of GM varieties approved for cultivation at EU level, provided they use non-scientific arguments. …In 2004 Canada, the United States and Argentina filed a complaint against the EU’s GM crop policies with the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing that a de facto EU moratorium on new cultivation approvals between 1999 and 2003 was against global trade rules. The complaint against the EU was largely backed by a WTO panel in 2006, but last year Canada – the world’s fourth-largest agricultural exporter – agreed to settle its case against the 27-nation bloc. As part of the settlement Canada and the Commission established a regular dialogue on GM issues, and Ottawa said in the letter it would seek further clarification on the proposals from the Commission at their next meeting on September 10.” The Reuters article is at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE67Q3XG20100827.

And now the Financial Post has reported on January 21 that, “Canada is…strongly promoting the use of genetically modified foods in trade negotiations with Europe, (David Sparling, professor and chair of agrifood innovation at the Richard Ivey School of Business) said. This could have a secondary effect opening up the African market, where many farmers have been afraid to use Canadian drought-resistant seeds as they can’t sell the resulting crops in Europe. ‘We’ve been using [the strains] for more than a decade and haven’t had any adverse effects so it’s something they should allow,’ Mr. Sparling said. ‘They’ve been talking for a year now and there might be something by the summer.'” That report is at http://www.montrealgazette.com/Weather+beaten/4142601/story.html#ixzz1BmF5wgkF.

Additionally, as early as May 1998, the Council of Canadians has been calling for the labelling of genetically modified foods in Canada. We supported Liberal MP Charles Caccia’s private members bill C-287, legislation that would have made the labelling of genetically modified food in Canada mandatory. That legislation was defeated in a House of Commons vote in October 2001. In contrast, the European Parliament has supported mandatory labelling and mandatory labelling has been in place in Europe since April 2004. More on that at http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/genetics_modification/.

One of the Harper government’s main objectives in the Canada-EU CETA negotiations appears to be ending European Union restrictions on the import of hormone-treated beef from Canada.

We’re piecing that story together, but here are two interesting news reports. In July, the Canwest News Service reported that Jason Langrish, executive director of the Canada Europe Round Table, “said the proposed (CETA’s) quota is large enough to make it profitable for Canadian ranchers to raise hormone-free beef.” That’s at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=4235. By November, Reuters reported that, “Canada has gained duty-free access to the European Union for a 20,000-tonne annual quota of beef, Canada’s agriculture and trade ministers said on Tuesday. The access is worth about C$10 million ($9.8 million) annually, the ministers said.” The article also noted, “Canada and the European Commission also have finalized a memorandum of understanding that sets a path toward resolving the long-standing World Trade Organization dispute between Canada and the European Union on beef hormones, the ministers said.” That’s at http://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCATRE6AM3I720101123.

In 1999, the Council of Canadians called on the federal government to re-evaluate the use of growth hormones in Canadian beef and to stop penalizing the EU for trying to protect the health of their citizens. More on that at http://canadians.org/media/trade/1999/13-May-99.html.